BANGKOK – Stocks surged on Wall Street to their highest levels since the business shutdowns took hold in the U.S. over two months ago, climbing on optimism Tuesday about the reopening economy even as the nation's official death toll from the coronavirus closed in on 100,000, a number President Donald Trump once predicted the country would never see.
With infections mounting rapidly in places like Brazil and India, a top global health official warned that the crisis is far from over.
In a largely symbolic move, the New York Stock Exchange trading floor in Manhattan reopened for the first time in two months, with plexiglass barriers, masks and a reduced number of traders to adhere to 6-foot (2-meter) social distancing rules. Those entering the NYSE will have their temperatures taken and were asked to avoid public transportation.
The S&P 500 closed 1.2% higher, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average gained nearly 530 points, or 2.2%. Markets worldwide also rose.
“These little baby steps that we start to see different states reopening, different policies that are being allowed that weren’t allowed two weeks ago — these are all clear signals that we’re moving in the right direction,” said Jonathan Corpina, senior managing partner at Meridian Equity Partners.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has presided over the state with the highest death toll from the scourge, rang the bell to set off trading at the NYSE.
Several thousand brokers and others used to crowd the trading floor as recently as the 1990s. But in the years since, the rise of electronic trading from computer terminals grew to dominate the action on Wall Street. These days, there are about 500 floor traders at the NYSE.
The rally took place as the government reported that U.S. consumer confidence inched up this month, showing signs of stabilizing. Still, it remains near a six-year low in the face of the widespread business shutdowns that have sent the economy into recession and driven unemployment to levels last seen during the Great Depression.
Over the past few days, rental car giant Hertz and South America’s biggest airline, Latam, filed for bankruptcy, joining the likes of J. Crew, J.C. Penney and Neiman Marcus.
Worldwide, the virus has infected more than 5.5 million people and killed over 348,000, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. Europe has recorded about 170,000 deaths, while the U.S. was approaching 100,000 in a span of less than four months, more than the number of Americans killed in the Vietnam and Korean wars combined.
The true death toll is widely believed to be significantly higher, with experts saying many victims died of the virus without ever being tested for it.
Trump several months ago likened the coronavirus to the flu and dismissed worries it could lead to so many deaths. The administration's leading scientists have since warned that as many as 240,000 could perish from the virus.
In hard-hit New York, Cuomo reported a one-day total Tuesday of 73 deaths, the lowest figure in months, and down from a peak of nearly 800.
“In this absurd new reality, that is good news," he said.
Still, even the GOP convention in August is up in the air, with Republicans talking about pulling it out of North Carolina because of concerns authorities there might not allow such a large gathering. Georgia and Florida — both led by Republican governors — have offered to host the convention.
In Italy, where the crisis is easing but the death toll is a staggering 33,000, the ancient ruins at Pompeii were reopened to the public Tuesday, and the Colosseum in Rome, one of the world's biggest tourist attractions, will begin receiving visitors again on June 1, though entrance times will be staggered to reduce crowding and tickets must be bought online.
Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli revealed that he has recovered from COVID-19 and went to a hospital in Pisa on Tuesday to donate plasma for research about coronavirus treatments.
The World Health Organization said that the world remains mired in only the first stage of the pandemic, putting a damper on hopes for a speedy global economic rebound.
“Right now, we're not in the second wave. We're right in the middle of the first wave globally," said Dr. Mike Ryan, WHO's executive director.
“We're still very much in a phase where the disease is actually on the way up,” Ryan said, pointing to South America, South Asia and other parts of the world.
India, with a population of over 1.3 billion, saw a record single-day jump in new cases for the seventh straight day. It reported 6,535 new infections Tuesday, raising its total to over 145,000, including almost 4,200 deaths.
Chilean authorities said Tuesday that 95% of its 2,400 intensive care beds are occupied even after doubling capacity from March levels. An average of 4,000 new infections are being reported daily.
In Brazil, where President Jair Bolsonaro has raged against state and local leaders enforcing stay-at-home measures, WHO warned that before reopening the economy, authorities must have enough testing in place to control the spread of the virus.
Brazil has about 375,000 coronavirus infections — second only to the 1.6 million cases in the U.S. — and has counted over 23,000 deaths, but many fear Brazil's true toll is much higher.
Ryan said that because of Brazil’s “intense” transmission rates, it should keep some stay-at-home measures in place, regardless of the damage to the economy.
“You must continue to do everything you can,” he said.
A U.S. travel ban was set to take effect Tuesday for foreigners coming from Brazil.
In Europe, Russian's Vladimir Putin announced that the postponed military parade marking the 75th anniversary of Nazi Germany's defeat in World War II will take place on June 24. Victory Day has become the most important holiday in Russia, traditionally marked on May 9 with a show of armed might in Red Square.
Russia reported a record one-day spike Tuesday of 174 deaths, bringing the country’s confirmed death toll to over 3,800. Russia’s coronavirus caseload surpassed 360,000 — third-highest in the world — with almost 9,000 new infections registered.
The country’s comparatively low mortality rate has raised questions among experts. Russian officials deny manipulating the figures and attribute the low numbers to the effectiveness of the country's lockdowns.
Associated Press journalists around the world contributed to this report.